As I was going from restaurant to restaurant in search of the perfect chicken wing, I found out not all wings are created equal or even remotely the same. And because like everything here, Napa Valley, finds a way to elevate its wings to a whole new level.
I know what you are thinking, who in Napa Valley would write an article on chicken wings when there is so much extraordinary cuisine in the valley worth sharing. I like the idea that restaurants can take something as basic as buffalo wings and turn them into something epicurean. Since I have been to several restaurants in and around St. Helena, noting vast differences in style and preparation, I felt it would be enjoyable to write about a few of my favorites.
Buffalo Style Chicken Wings – Cook Tavern – St. Helena
These aren’t standard Frank’s Hot Sauce Buffalo wings. There is a hint of honey and sweetness but still have kept their spicy kick. The wings themselves are Mary’s Chicken, free range and organic and very meaty on the bone; and are served with a side of blue cheese dipping sauce. Cook Tavern makes everything from scratch, and the buffalo sauce is no exception.
Cook Tavern is a gastropub located on Main Street in St. Helena and serves hand-crafted cocktails and high-end appetizers such as duck confit tacos, homemade corndogs, soups, salads and a burger. These wings are served for lunch and dinner and are $12 for a healthy portion.
Chicken Wings – Wet or Dry – Goose & Gander – St. Helena
Another chicken wing entree that leans more toward the Asian style are the Goose & Gander wings served wet or dry. I ordered mine wet as opposed to dry and asked for some blue cheese. Luckily, Goose & Gander has an extensive artisan cheese list, and I was able to accompany my wings with Pennyroyal Boonters Blue.
The wings were full, and the sauce was a thick mix of sweet and sour with a substantial kick. The cheese was a nice, robust blue that went well with the sweetness of the sauce, however, that is purely subjective since I can’t live without cheese on my wings, others may find the wings better on their own. Goose & Gander serves wings for both lunch and dinner for $12, and the Pennyroyal Boonters Blue cheese is $7.
Smoked Chicken Wings – Pizzeria Tra Vigne – Saint Helena
Pizzeria Tra Vigne put a spin on wings by using a flavorful, housemade Italian wing sauce to the mix, adding heat and heartiness. The blue cheese aioli is tasty, although could be a little thicker in my mind. If you do like more chunk in your cheese, you can order a side of the pizzeria’s gorgonzola crumbles.
Slightly crisp, it was a nice contrast to the traditional wings I had been ordering. Pizzeria Tra Vigne is known for artisan pizzas and piadines (Italian flatbreads). Smoked chicken wings are a relatively new item on the menu and available for lunch and dinner for $11.95.
Buffalo Wings – Sogni Di Dolci – Saint Helena
If you are one for traditional Buffalo-style hot wings, these have all the key ingredients of a classic hot wing, Frank’s Red Hot, celery and blue cheese. These wings smothered in the perfect sauce, have a crispy skin and a nice quality blue cheese dipping sauce. I usually like to pair it with their house rosé on tap; it goes well with wings in general.
Sogni Di Dolci is predominantly a local’s hangout, serving espresso drinks, gelato, a variety of beers as well as bar bites and paninis. Sogni’s chicken wings are only available for happy hour and dinner, happy hour running from 3-6pm, serving four wings for $4 whereas the dinner portion serves eight wings for $8.
Crispy Hoisin Glazed Duck Wings – Archetype – St. Helena
Maybe your tired of chicken or just want to be more adventurous. Archetype has a great happy hour from 5-7pm and serves duck wings in a hoisin sauce. Duck wings are much larger than chicken wings and have a darker, fattier meat which falls off the bone. They are tossed in a dark colored hoisin sauce, served with a pineapple slice and topped with scallions and sesame seeds.
These duck wings are rich, and the sauce reminds me of a Chinese version of mole sauce. Of the four wings, I could only eat three of them, and at the happy hour price of $8, this is a good deal.
Crispy Wings – Two Birds/One Stone
When the waitress mentions to you that the chef is known for his wings and fried chicken, you know you have hit the jackpot. Sticking with the Asian-inspired theme, the crispy wings with chili yuzu and picked watermelon rind seems more like a play on fried chicken than a basic wing.
Four nice sized pieces are double battered, deep-fried and then tossed in a sweet and spicy chili yuzu sauce. The crunch was perfect, and the pickled watermelon rind added a nice contrast. The crispy wings are available for lunch and dinner for $9. Two Birds/One Stone is one of the latest, new hotspots in the Napa Valley and worth a visit especially to try the crispy wings.
Hong Kong Wings – Auberge du Soleil – Rutherford
The bar at Auberge has one of the most spectacular views in all of Napa Valley; they also have managed to elevate their chicken wing to a new level. The Hong Kong Wings with soy-lime vinaigrette had a nice sweet teriyaki style sauce. It’s one of my favorite wings thus far.
As per usual, I ordered up a side of blue cheese and enjoyed the mouth watering sauce and substantial meat on the wings. The tang of the soy-lime vinaigrette is a nice contrast to some of the other wings I had tried.
Auberge du Soleil is a high-end place to dine, and at $14 a plate, makes this appetizer the most expensive on the list. But if you don’t care and just want to sit back, enjoy the view and dine on gourmet wings while sipping a cold glass of Rosé, this may just be the place for you.
I didn’t even make it out of town to experience many different plays on an American institution. I know I have only scratched the surface on my hunt for the perfect chicken wing and sure I will be experiencing many more creative and exciting dishes in the near future.
Enjoy… Wine Ho